Saturday, December 25, 2010

Favorite comments of '10: Barry Garelick on traditional math

(Enlightened exchanges about Reform Math)

Barry Garelick

I find that there are many people who mischaracterize traditional math as one that consists only of drill and "mindless rote". I went to school in the 50's and 60's and have looked at many of the textbooks in use at that time. Procedures are explained, in terms of what one is doing when executing a particular algorithm, as well as what types of problems are addressed by such procedure. Thus, multiplication of fractions is not simply left as an endless list of fraction multiplication problems, but includes word problems as well. 

The anonymous commenter that Katharine talks about is saying that inquiry-based teaching is getting a bad rap. I would say that inquiry based teaching done wrong has become prevalent, and not just in math. Student-led teaching takes the form of students working in groups and helping each other "construct knowledge"--supposedly with teacher guidance. There have been attacks by reformers on the idea of students "sitting in rows with the teacher at the front of the class, teaching", as if sitting in rows stifles knowledge, that no "ah-ha" experiences can occur via direct instruction, and that the teacher never asks leading questions or scaffolds students. (Sherry Fraser's testimony to the National Math Panel comes to mind; she's a principal of the IMP math series.)

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